AUBURN — “Our message to veterans is, “Let an appreciative America help you,” said Sandra Smith, director of The Vet Center in Lewiston. And that’s just what members of The Veteran Riders of Maine did on a December Saturday at the American Legion Post 31 on Washington Avenue in Auburn.

They hosted a party for the families of veterans who need a little extra support and cheer this holiday season. Clients of The Vet Center joined other veteran families at Post 31 for games, singing, crafts and food. Santa arrived with gifts for the children. And veteran elves made sure that many more gifts for the guest children would be arriving on Christmas Day. Santa was “invited” by Post 31 Finance Officer, Peter Cook, a close personal friend.

The Vet Center, on Westminster Street in Lewiston, is officially the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Readjustment Counseling Service. According to Eric Noll, office manager, they are there to help veterans of all eras, and their families, make the transition between military and civilian life.

They offer personal assistance with post-traumatic stress, sexual trauma, harassment and bereavement. They also provide outreach and education on many other veteran’s issues and services. According to Noll, “If we don’t do it we can connect you with someone who does.” They can be reached at 207-783-0068 or 207-783-0068.

The American Legion mission stresses “continued devotion to our fellow service members and veterans.” Or, as the president of Veteran Riders of Maine, Chuck Starbird, said, “We’re just taking care of our brothers.” And sisters, his wife Colleen, an active member of the Post 31 Women’s Auxiliary, would remind him.

Veterans themselves understand the added stress on service members and veterans who often want to “make up for” holidays where they were on deployment on duty. “They willingly make the sacrifices, but feel guilty for not being there for their families,” said Bettyann Sheats, Post 31 member. “We want them to know how much Americans appreciate that sacrifice. And we will be here for those service members who are serving right now, when they return.”

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